Scroll down to view
This is the all too short story of a talented, well-educated young man, Edward Morgan, who survived the Great War and lost both his parents within a year of its conclusion. He married and, tragically, died, as did his wife, less than four years later, their final months plagued by the dreaded disease of tuberculosis.
Edward was the husband of Charlotte Miriam (aka Miriam Charlotte) Labron, known also as Minnie, whose father, John, never saw his daughter as he was struck down by the same awful disease and died before she was born. I am indebted to descendants of Esther Ann Morgan (1876-1963), Edward’s sister, for much of the following information.
Edward was born at Fforestfach, now a suburb of Swansea, in about 1883, the son of William Morgan (1850-1919), a native of Craigcefnparc, and Sarah Bowen (1844-1918), a native of Llangennech, both communities near Swansea. Five siblings survived infancy, Edward being the youngest.
By 1891 his family had moved to High Street, Gorseinon and by 1901, to Llwynmeurig Terrace, Gorseinon; Edward was then a pupil teacher. William’s working life had been spent in the coal industry. He was employed in the sinking of mine shafts and there is anecdotal family evidence that one such was at Garngoch Colliery, Gorseinon. In an undated agreement, William together with Samuel Prothero and others contracted with Langes and Desmond Collieries Ltd to sink a shaft at Beili Glas Colliery, Loughor for which they were paid the sum of £11-0-0 per vertical yard, "the work to be carried on uninterruptedly three shifts per twenty four hours except Sundays". I am informed he built not only the houses in which he and his family lived in 1891 and 1901 but also the adjacent properties.
By 1911 the family had moved again within Gorseinon, to "Brynhelig" but by then Edward had left home and had travelled to the Continent. Evidence suggests he lived in Germany from about 1906, at least part of the time in Cologne (Köln); in February 1908 he sent this postcard of the city to his family.
That same month he wrote the following letter to his brother-in-law, William Evans, who had recently lost his two year old son. Edward was then living in a busy commercial street, in one of the blocks of apartments above the shops. The letter refers to houses occupied by family members and thought to have been built by Edward’s father.
12 Antwerpener Strasse,
If anything could have caused me special pain it was the news of your sad bereavement. How I remember dear little Tom with his lovely and intelligent eyes holding forth happiness in after time of which we can scarcely think without regret. It has indeed been a heavy blow and I scarcely know how to speak of consolation under so bitter an affliction; but I am rejoiced that you seek and find consolation in One who “careth for all” who loves little children beyond others; and that you think of the bright and never-ending future life of that dear child whose spirit has passed away from you for but a brief period.
Human consolations are weak. May a higher power still teach you that all is for the best, that spring comes after winter, sunshine after rain and light after darkness.
I like the name of your house very much. Have they yet decided on a name for ours? I have been puzzling my brain for one but I can’t evolve anything satisfactory. Somehow or other I feel that nothing comes up to "Llwynmeurig" but of course that is impossible now, mores the pity.
I have special news this time. There is a student here – a Doctor of Philosophy – who had a long argument with our Director (a French doctor) on Welsh. The Ph.D. maintained that it was a dialect and that he would understand many words if he heard it spoken because of its similarity to English. I was sent for to decide and defied him to understand the old verse [see below, as written]
I don’t understand all of it myself and know I have not written it correctly but you should have seen that Ph.D.’s face! When he recovered his breath he asked me to translate it and I calmly recited “Mary had a little lamb” etc. He confirmed himself beaten.
Now I must conclude. Kindest love to all.
Local newspapers reported that whilst in Germany, Edward had acquired valuable experience of the system of Labour Exchanges there. On his return to Wales, prior to the outbreak of the Great War, that experience helped him gain employment at the Cardiff Labour Exchange, which was opened on 1 February 1910 [Photo, Evening Express, 2 Feb 1910]. The passing of the Labour Exchanges Act the year before had brought about the creation of such state funded labour exchanges to help the unemployed find work. Edward also wrote articles for the "Herald of Wales" and the "Cambrian Leader", both of which subsequently reported on his progress during the Great War.
Edward enlisted in 2nd Battalion, The Rifle Brigade, in September. 1914 and was posted to France in July the following year. This battalion was part of 24th Brigade, 8th Division, and Edward would have been involved in the action of Bois Grenier (25 September 1915), a hard fought engagement which was one of several subsidiary attacks in support of the Battle of Loos (Another was The Battle of Festubert in which William (Billy) Henry Kenrick Owen was mortally wounded).
On the 18th of October 1915 24th Brigade transferred to 23rd Division to instruct the inexperienced troops and the Cambrian Daily Leader, 25 December 1915, reported:
It will interest Gorseinon readers to know that Rifleman Edward Morgan, 2nd Rifle Brigade, who has been out at the front for some months, has been transferred to the Royal Engineers. For many years Rifleman Morgan acted as the local correspondent for the "Leader" and "Herald of Wales." He has travelled extensively in Germany as an English teacher. It was his knowledge of the system of Labour Exchanges in German that secured him a, berth in this country when they were introduced here. Previous to enlisting he was on the staff of the Labour Exchange at Cardiff. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. W. Morgan, reside at Gorseinon, whilst a brother-in-law is Councillor William Evans, Llanerch, Gorsienon.
A letter from Edward to William, dated 15 January 1916, reveals that he was engaged in surveying activities and explains how he rejected officer status in favour of remaining a private.
Sat. 15th Jan 1916
Very many thanks for your interesting (though short) letter. I am still at the surveying job and am getting to see quite a large bit of the country around here. It’s considerably more interesting than sticking in the mud in the trenches. I seem to have had the "hang" of requirements here very well and have been put in charge of the whole job. Stripes have been offered – and refused. I shall still continue a private infantryman or, as I am known amongst the Engineers, as Surveyor Morgan. Of course I cannot give you any information about the exact work – that would be betraying a trust, but I possess information which would be extremely useful to Fritz, opposite.
You flatter me when you ask my opinion of the position and the possibility or probability of crushing the enemy. I can speak with confidence of the part of the line that we have the enemy well under control and could at any time pick them out of their trenches with our "toothpicks" and there is hardly one of us who would not like the job. You remember the advance the French made in Champagne last Sept or August? While that was going on we engaged the enemy’s flank as a division, but to our disgust were not allowed to move forward. We know all about them – how their trenches are manned – the morale of the men whom we have listened to in the nights. We have crawled off to their trenches, through their barbed wire hung over their trenches, counted the men in their saps but we are not allowed to advance. Only a general advance will allow us to go forward. We are somewhat too advanced in this part as it is. If we went further we should get enfiladed but when a general advance comes, and we hope it will come soon, we shall be over there like wild devils. In cold blood it seems a ghastly business but when your blood is up and shells crash around your feet you would eagerly go through hell itself. I shall have a lot to tell you when the business is over but don’t read all the letter to the good people next door. Now to more important things. The smoking material was excellent with the exception of the pipe which was not to my taste. A half-smoked clay pipe is much more to my liking.
I must now conclude. Trusting you are all in the best of health.
PS I am having the letter posted by a friend in Nottingham.
Newspapers reported in July 1916 that Edward had been injured and after a month’s treatment in Epsom Hospital he returned home for a few days to recuperate before returning to the Front.
The following article by Edward was published in the Cambria Daily Leader, 28 September 1916:
On Clay Pipes: A Soliloquy from the Trenches
The following, entitled "A Soliloquy on Clay Pipes," has been sent home by Rifleman Edward Morgan, Gorseinon, and is indicative of the spirit that the rigours of warfare in the trenches breeds amongst our brave soldiers.
A quiet pipe in the reserve trenches. Many pipes. Not a graceful calabash or lordly meerschaum; not even the seasoned briar—but a dirty clay pipe. During the six months' rough campaigning I have looked after its safety and condition with tender solicitude and used it every day, tobacco permitting. It is the pride of my section, and envious eyes are often cast upon it. I could get a tin of "bully" for it any day, but I have it still. Time has told a little upon it - its stem has become shorter and shorter. Little lengths of thread have been carefully wound around its diminutive mouthpiece to protect it from dental friction, and when, in a careless moment, too much pressure is exerted, my teeth go through, and the remainder falls to earth, I exclaim with all devoutness, "Thank Heaven which sends the mud to save the falling clay."
Many pipes; and still I know not what to write about, nor why I should attempt to inflict my vapourings (I have seen that word somewhere) on my friends and acquaintances. It is so difficult to know what will interest, so I shall just jog along in my own disconnected fashion, confident of the indulgence of my readers. I have been away from my battalion since the beginning of December. being attached to the Engineers as a surveyor. In the Army of today nothing comes amiss—digging, drawing, house demolishing, road-mending, etc. etc. and, as I was fortunate enough to know something about survey work, and satisfied Headquarters on that score, I was immediately put on the new work. Each day, "hail, rain or snow," now finds me tramping over the country with my chain and tape men—and clay pipe.
A pipe is a necessary adjunct to the surveyor. In civilian life he stands at the various stations of his ground, thinks long and puffs his pipe calmly; but in the Army there is no time for that. At any moment, and at the most unlikely places, a staff officer rides up to ask if such and such a plan is yet completed. To a negative reply, if he is at all choleric (as he often is) he indulges in a "Dear me," "Tut, tut," "Good gracious," "Fancy that," etc., etc., and such like expressions affected by Army men. However, there is a little leisure for reflection now and then. In comparison with the past, the guns seem very far away, although, as a matter of fact, we are well within shell range, and not infrequently a shell does burst near, more to our annoyance than anything else. In the front trenches we expect that sort of thing, but here it seems an unwarrantable interference with one's comfort.
Here it is considerably more comfortable than it was in the fire trenches, where we struggled about in the mud. We could not escape from it. Shell, rifle and machine-gun fire one does not seem to mind, but the rain has a depressing influence, especially in the long nights when we are tired and hungry, wet, cold and dirty. We used to welcome the ghostly dawn as it crept upon us, and our tired eyes looked over the parapets towards the lightening east. Physically we were whacked, but were still ready for any demands upon our strength.
The officers are very human. They see the men are exhausted—perhaps they have been standing for twelve or fourteen hours knee-deep in icy water. A rum ration is issued, and circulation is once more restored. Rum! I hope my lady readers will not lift up their hands in pious horror. We are told that in England there are agitators who clamour for the abolition of the rum ration. I picture some of my colleagues at home, virile of pen and tongue. If you are placed in a position to speak or write for or against the practice of serving out rum to the fighting men, remember that in the front line. Tommy in the slush often has to subsist on cast iron biscuits and bully, perhaps wet to the skin for days on end. The small quantity of rum issued out to the soldier helps to ward off rheumatism and other complaints attendant on wet and cold. Don't begrudge him that trifle.
Are we downhearted ? No! We are not. Sometimes when our friends are suddenly dashed beyond "The Great Divide," we wonder vaguely what connection there is between world power and civilisation on the one hand, and riddled lungs and torn and mangled bodies on the other. A friend of mine yielded up his soul with the words, "Gwell angau na chywilydd" (Better death than shame.) At any moment our bodies may be demanded of us, but as long as there is wrong to right, "Who dies if England lives?"
Edward’s parents were both dead and buried in Kingsbridge Cemetery within a short time of his return from the war; his mother died in the summer of 1918 and his father on 31 December 1919, soon after Edward’s marriage [Wrexham 1919, 4th qt] to Minnie Labron. The dreaded disease tuberculosis, which was soon to kill both Edward and Minnie, had taken the life of Minnie’s father before she was born. Minnie’s mother, Louisa, remarried and, Olwen Hedley, one of the granddaughters from this second marriage, recalled that Edward was especially nice and taught her German.
Edward was an official at the Ministry of Labour, when he died on 24 October 1922 [Wrexham 1922, 4th qtr], aged 40. Minnie died a few months later, on 28 June 1923 [Wrexham 1923, 2nd qtr], aged 38. At their deaths both were of 37 Spring Road, Rhosddu, Wrexham, where Minnie’s aunts, Margaret and Sarah Ann Shelby, lived. It may be that Sarah’s death in 1923 was also due to T.B.. Edward, Minnie and Sarah (known as "Lallie Shelby") share a grave in Wrexham Cemetery. Subsequently, Minnie's mother was buried in an adjacent grave, together with her second husband, John Jones. As was the case for several members of the family, including the aunts, probate for Edward and Minnie was granted to Minnie’s uncle, Timothy Morgan Owen Shelby.